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After seeing booth after booth of compression socks at the Boston Marathon Expo, I had to give them a try! I am an Elite Ambassador with Feetures! and they sent me a pair to try out.

In the meantime, I did my research wanting to know why they had become so popular over the past few years. I had heard they mainly are used for the elderly or after surgery to create better blood flow and reduce blood clots. I had seen professional runners Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher wear them and read several articles in running magazines claiming they increase blood flow. This lead me to believe they were beneficial for athletic performance as well as helping with shin splints. But I wanted to find out the science behind them for endurance athletes.

The theory behind compression socks is that they hold the muscles, tendons and bones tightly to minimize the leg vibration that occurs every time your foot strikes the ground. All that repeated pounding can result in shin splints, and wearing the socks could possibly eliminate some of the pain. I then went to Competitor.com for more information on their effectiveness. Below are their findings:

“The claims are that compression socks increase oxygen delivery, decrease lactic acid, prevent cramps, and minimize muscle fatigue. But, whether or not the socks and tights deliver as promised has been an open question – one even researchers don’t have a clear answer for.”

“Multiple studies, including one done by Ali, have found decreases in muscle soreness and perceived fatigue. Some possible increases in blood flow and lymph removal during the recovery period have also been found
For athletes to get the full benefit, the compression needs to be graduated (tighter at the ankle and decreasing), fit the individual, and have 22 – 32 mmHg of pressure. There haven’t been any differences found in brands.”

Here are some additional benefits of compression sportswear:
•    Improves athletic performance and endurance by reducing muscle vibration.
•    Graduated compression reduces the build up of lactic acid, helps the muscle recover faster.
•    Provides relief from feeling tired and aching legs.
•    Improves blood circulation.
•    Prevents injuries.
•    Elastic top band adjusts to fit leg perfectly without slipping or constricting. (Compression Socks)
•    Special weaving texture protects tibia. (Compression Socks)

So, considering all that, here are my impressions. The socks were a little difficult to get on, but I knew they needed to fit tight! Once I got them on, I decided to give them a test run during my speed drills.

First, I didn’t really notice any difference during my one-mile warm up, then when I started into the speed drills, I felt as if something was squeezing my calf...tight! I really didn’t enjoy that feeling and felt uncomfortable. Coincidentally, I was just a few weeks away from my 11th full marathon, The San Francisco Marathon, and since I hadn’t practiced any long runs in them, I took them for post-marathon recovery. I had noticed several articles pointing to the fact that compression socks are really great for recovery. The San Francisco Marathon is half flat, one-quarter uphill and one-quarter downhill, so my legs were really sore! After the marathon, I showered and put them on for the next 24 hours which included a seven-hour car trip back home. I will have to say my feet were never swollen and my calves felt really good after wearing them. I do believe the socks helped with my recovery, so I am sold on using them for that reason.

In conclusion, I feel that it is up to the individual on how to use them. Some athletes really feel that compression socks help with performance and prevent injuries, while others prefer to use them strictly for recovery. The one thing I would say is that you should get the socks, over the calf sleeves which only extend from the shin to the knee. The socks are designed with a gradual compression from your foot to your knee, so your feet don’t swell. They reduced my recovery time and I just wish I had them after the Boston Marathon!